WASHINGTON – The US State Department on Friday warned American activists planning to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza that they risk criminal prosecution if they go through with their attempt.
Organizers said the flotilla – comprised of 10 passenger vessels and two cargo ships – would set sail on Tuesday, the Turkish daily Hurriyet reported on Friday.RELATED:Israel’s envoys to US, UN justify Gaza
blockade‘European ship to Egypt shows flotilla is
According to the report, the vessels, coming from different ports in the Mediterranean, will meet off the coast of Cyprus.
“Delivering or attempting or conspiring to deliver material support or other resources to or for the benefit of a designated foreign terrorist organization, such as Hamas, could violate US civil and criminal statutes and could lead to fines and incarceration,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.
This was the sharpest US warning against participating in the flotilla
to date, and came as a group of American citizens, including noted
writer and poet Alice Walker, gathered in Greece with plans to join the
flotilla on a vessel called the Audacity of Hope, named after one of US
President Barack Obama’s autobiographies.
The Americans are reported to be among the participants of the flotilla,
which is intended to commemorate a similar operation that left nine
Turkish men – one of who had dual citizenship with the US – dead after a
confrontation with the IDF in May 2010.
Nuland strongly criticized the activists aiming to break the blockade,
who say they want to provide humanitarian supplies to civilians there,
and urged them to use other means to transfer aid to the Palestinians.
“Groups that seek to break Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza are taking
irresponsible and provocative actions that risk the safety of their
passengers,” she said.
“Established and efficient mechanisms exist to transfer humanitarian assistance to Gaza,” Nuland said.
“We urge all those seeking to provide such assistance to the people of
Gaza to use these mechanisms, and not to participate in actions like the
The Obama administration has long pushed Israel to offer a more open
flow of goods to Gaza, but Nuland said that while the US remains
concerned about conditions in the coastal strip, “the humanitarian
situation has significantly improved over the last year.”
She also pointed to the recent seizures of weapons bound for Gaza from the sea.
“These seizures underscore the vital importance to Israel’s security of
ensuring that all cargo bound for Gaza is appropriately screened for
illegal arms and dual-use materials,” she said.
Nuland, also called on Hamas to accept the Quartet principles of
renouncing violence, recognizing Israel’s right to exist and accepting
In addition to Nuland’s criticism, the White House on Friday also
leveled its own attack on Hamas. White House press secretary Jay Carney
described the group as “in violation of the standards of basic decency
and international humanitarian demands” for holding abducted IDF soldier
Gilad Schalit for five years without any access to the International
Committee of the Red Cross.
“As the anniversary of his capture approaches, the United States
condemns in the strongest possible terms his continued detention, and
joins other governments and international organizations around the world
in calling on Hamas to release him immediately,” Carney said in his
Fiamma Nirenstein, vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of
the Italian Chamber of Deputies, said in a statement that her
government had reaffirmed its pledge to dissuade Italians from joining
the protest flotilla.
The Italian ship Stefano Chiarini is set to sail for Gaza this week, perhaps as soon as Tuesday.
Nirenstein submitted a parliamentary query on June 14, in which she
asked how Italy intends to abide by the UN secretary-general’s request
“to discourage new flotillas bound for Gaza,” and how it intends to
“avoid undermining the safety of Italian citizens in case they should be
found on those ships, as it has been reported.”
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s administration replied to Nirenstein on June 22.
“The Italian government fully shares the concerns and recommendations of
the UN secretary-general,” the statement read. “In April, Prime
Minister Berlusconi stated that his executive intends to make every
effort to avoid this year other initiatives that can damage the
resumption of the peace process.
“Minister [of Foreign Affairs Franco] Frattini affirmed on May 10 that
the best way to assist the population of Gaza is to deliver humanitarian
aid via the land crossing, which would avoid any kind of provocation
that could only result in a rise in tension,” the statement continued.
Italy said Israeli measures to facilitate movement and access of goods
and materials “are going in the right direction,” and it called for
additional international pressure “to avoid provocations and situations
of crisis in which new flotillas could be involved.”
When asked by Nirenstein about the safety of Italians aboard the ships
bound for Gaza, the Italian government wrote, “We are on alert in order
to prevent any kind of danger that might undermine the safety of Italian
It pointed to Austria, Germany, France and the UK as countries that have
also highlighted on their foreign ministry websites the legal and
physical risks of trying to break Israel’s blockade.
Herb Keinon and Benjamin Weinthal in Berlin contributed to this report.